The folks at Mohrfield Farms didn't intend to become custom operators when they bought a machine that slices and reties big bales. But commercial hay growers are asking for the service.
“After seeing how this machine works, one neighbor bought a big baler during the winter and his intentions are to have us repackage bales for him,” says Dan Koopmans, general manager. “Other neighbors, who already own big balers, want to hire us, too.”
Mohrfield Farms, owned by Koopmans' in-laws, Larry and Shirley Mohrfield, is a dairy and commercial hay operation near Pleasant Plain, OH. The family recently scaled back the dairy operation and expanded the forage business. Part of that expansion was the purchase of a custom-made machine from Steffen Systems, Salem, OR.
The stationary machine, which cost close to $200,000, slices large bales into sections. The sections are then compressed and retied into small bales of uniform size and weight. Called a resizer or rebaler, the machine processes 3 × 3' or 3 × 4' bales that are 7-8' long. Each 3 × 3 × 8' bale yields 10 to 12 small ones.
Koopmans can process about 30 big bales per hour.
“It's almost fully automated,” he says. “The only thing I have to do is cut the strings off the bales before the conveyor belt moves them into the machine.”
The family harvests 350 acres of straw and 500 acres of hay, with two-thirds in timothy and the balance in an alfalfa-orchardgrass mix. Some of the hay is sold to horse owners; the rest is sold for pet food. They also buy and resell several hundred tons of hay per year.
“Our forage business has really taken off,” says Koopmans. “We have over 125 clients now and every month we add three or four more. Some buy a few bales at a time and others buy truckloads.”
The resizer enables the family to harvest big bales but market small ones.
“We're always battling the weather here — whether it's rain or humidity,” he says. “Instead of running three small balers, we can cover more ground with the big baler in less time and with less labor.”
Their first foray into custom work was this past winter when a local grower paid $30/ton to get big bales of straw turned into small ones.
“That worked well for us and him,” says Koopmans.
“Doing custom work wasn't our original reason for buying the machine, but that will be a bonus on top of what it's already doing for us. We have the time to do it and the extra income will help pay for it.”
Hal Herron, a Batavia, OH, hay grower, is the neighbor who bought a big baler after seeing Koopmans demonstrate the machine.
“I was skeptical that the machine could maintain the integrity of the bale, but it stayed the same,” says Herron.
He plans to have timothy bales resized so he can market the hay to horse owners.
“I can't find people who are willing to work putting up small bales, but that's what my customers want,” says Herron. “Because we're so close to Cincinnati, we have to compete with the malls and fast food restaurants for labor. It's much easier to work in an air-conditioned building than it is to bale hay.”